Some musicians make it. Some musicians are young, prepared, with the original talent that so many are missing. They come out of the garage, from the dusty little rooms where they played on Saturday afternoon and say here I am, this is me, this is the music that belongs to me and now listen to me. They organize the first concerts, participate in the first competitions, then it ends up that they meet an important American recording engineer and make a debut album among the most interesting in circulation.
The Mad Shepherd is one of these few, and not just because they are good, but because they have been able to understand the importance of an open minded and international look in an era of continuous exchanges between small and large continents.
First: they are an alternative rock band composed of drums (Marco Fiorenza), bass guitar (Francesco Leone), guitar (Salvatore Dragone) and vocals (Stefano Di Pietro). Second: they sing in English. Point three: they are inspired by bands like Queens of the Stone Age, Deftones and Foo Fighters. Fourth point: their lyrics tell those aspects of the Italian reality so universal as to be easily recognizable in many others. In short: anyone can listen to, and anyone can say, hey, this is my country, this is me.
On the occasion of the release of their debut album on March 25th with the cryptic title “Monarch” we interviewed the singer Stefano Di Pietro, back with the others from winning Best New Band in Rome VideoClip with the video of the song California.
The title of your debut album, Monarch, refers to a peculiar technique of “mind control” used by the CIA to train agents through the use of hypnosis. On closer inspection it seems almost a metaphor for Italy: a country tired and lame which prefers to close its musical talents in jars of the same form rather than taking a risk by accepting new and real diversity. From this point of view, the United States seems rather a country of great opportunities, or not?
I’d say you’ve caught perfectly the metaphor that we used. The United States from this point of view is very different, there is a real openness to the new and they take many more risks. This does not mean that there are no entrenched powers, indeed, just that it’s easier to find one’s way, especially if it is “already traced.”
Monarch was co-produced by Walter Babbini (a name well known in Italy), while the mastering was entrusted to Howie Weinberg (Muse, Metallica, Deftones) at its Howie Weinberg Mastering studio in Los Angeles.
How was this collaboration born? What does it mean for Italian alternative rock musicians to work in the US?
We contacted Howie directly via email and we shipped the mix disc. He was really nice and helpful. We had written to many other Master Recording Engineers before hearing from him and all had shown a certain professionalism and a very informal approach that always delighted us. Any relationship with the United States in terms of music becomes a positive surprise, even just in terms of the approach we feel much more at ease than in most Italian contexts.
You lived in the United States: first studying linguistics at Berkeley (CA), then deepening research in the humanities at the Department of Cognitive Science, San Diego (UCSD). How have these experiences influenced the drafting of the lyrics of the album?
I would say a lot. Knowing a little how language and the mind work helped me write lyrics richer both in terms of language and in the process of construction of meaning behind it. You may have noticed that there is a large amount of metaphors. They play an important evocative function. The lyrics about rebirth are all built on a series of spatial metaphors (linked to the rise and fall) that connect to the dynamics of all the music and the fluctuations of the melody. It’s all created to arouse a feeling of ascent and descent in certain steps, which also acts at the perceptual level. Then studying Cognitive Sciences I also realized how easy it is for those who know certain communication strategies, for example, politicians to convince the population that a given choice is the best one. These studies together with those of Francis, bassist and psychologist by training, inspired us to create the concept of the album itself.
“If you wanna take the right way than to forget the road signs / Is a long way till the end / Rising, rising but it will be a wild ride / Rising, rising”. One wants to read these verses of courage (contained in the song Rising) again and again, with eyes half closed and the outside world that for a moment stops making noise.
In a flooded society, where small and large crises have given rise to only anger and immobility, is it perhaps more necessary than ever for the enjoyment of healthy encouragement for revenge? The use of healthy and beautiful words?
First of all thanks for your consideration, we would like everyone to have that desire to listen with your eyes closed, letting go and maybe even afford to get a bit ‘more courage from the words of this song which is just an incitement to revolution and redemption, in search of their own way, forgetting perhaps even the fear to take alternate routes. I think you’ve caught very well the essence of our message that does not want to be only complaint but especially incitement. We would like to try to show a way out, maybe infusing energy during live performances, the courage to take what is owed. We come from a generation, especially in Italy, where young people are always kept at bay, have to wait, to respect their elders and superiors, in silence, treated as eternal children. That’s enough, let’s get organized and create something of our own, in any field. We must find the courage to challenge the safety and what is certain to find something authentic, even if we fail, but maybe just trying gives greater value to life itself.
And the American music market (the one that seems to never slow down), how does it react? Is it searching for beautiful lyrics?
The American record market definitely leaves a lot more room to actually even more alternatives and seeks to enhance the value of what is true. I must say that the Italian tradition from the point of view of the lyrics has nothing to envy, even the United States, we have a tradition of songwriters and lyricists that is really extraordinary. Often it lacks the aspect of music. Here we have tried to put together these two aspects … or at least we tried.
What are your current and future projects? But, above all, where do you see yourself?
First, the official release of the album, on March 25th, which will arrive in stores around the world (including the United States of course) by the end of March / April. Then we have a few gigs set up in Italy; For the official release of the album we will do an official release party in Rome. Then probably, in addition to Italy in August for the promotional tour, we will also do some dates in Northern Europe. We hope to play as soon as possible in the United States but perhaps also thanks to this interview, some opportunities will arise!
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